Will Smith, "Switch"; Brad Paisley, "Alcohol"

I'd be totally cool with Will Smith if he weren't so bland and smug and humorless and if I were 11. True, I sure enjoyed "Parents Just Don't Understand," which made some super points about generational conflict, and Six Degrees of Separation, which made some instructive points about the pronunciation of "bottle of beer," but for the past decade or more I've held that Smith's only artistically defensible career move would be retirement. And then I heard "Switch," which is...not bad! That giant kick drum and the handclaps and the ooh-la-la-las and the Prince synth--straight-up jiggy.

Most of the credit should go to Kwame, the former polka-dot-shirt-wearing rapper (check out his 1989 debut, The Boy Genius) who's enjoying a healthy second career as a producer (Lloyd Banks's bluesy "On Fire," for instance, was his). Credit the star for picking the right friends. And for a while Smith sounds nothing like one of the vocal talents featured in A Shark's Tale. Then he uses a verse to complain about celebrity and remind us, lest we question his cred, that he was a bona fide close-the-bar-down club rat way back when he was "amateur spittin'"--you know, before he had his first hit, in his late teens.

Alcoholic poets are a dime a dozen, but poets of alcoholism, those are worth at least four bucks per six-pack. Country singer Brad Paisley had a hit last year with "Whiskey Lullaby," a duet with Alison Krauss in which a couple of hard-luck romantics slowly commit suicide by overboozing. In certain parts of Wisconsin, sources say, the song has already become a wedding and prom-night standard. It wasn't quite as haunting as it intended to be, but it wasn't forgettable either. If "Whiskey Lullaby" was a drinking song for morticians sung from the vantage of a sympathetic observer, Paisley's latest single, "Alcohol," is a drinking song for barkeeps sung by the sauce itself. "You had some of the best times you'll never remember, with me, alcohol," sings Paisley, who notes common best-of-times results of dipsomania such as getting fired, unplanned excursions into amateur pornography, and the transformation of lampshades into hats. Surely no one but uninspired ironists ever does the lampshade-hat thing anymore, but then, uninspired ironists are a nickel a dozen.

"Helping white people dance" is another of the narrator/song's noble missions, and Paisley and band's amiable performance stands a good chance of starting some wobbly waltzes. But allow me to offer some sober complaints: Bringing in the obligatory "barroom chorus," a la Garth Brooks's "Friends in Low Places," Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar," and Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman," is a follower's misstep; and the band--very good, mind you, especially the lead guitarist--might have done well to loosen up a bit before rolling tape. They sound like a bunch of professionals in a fancy air-conditioned recording studio at 3:00 p.m., playing music while drinking diet soda in moderation. Just a guess. Fun song, though. It should come fully into its own when plowed through during some cover band's third set.

 
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